Investigators release images of Mackenzie Lueck, the 23 year old missing University of Utah student. Courtesy Salt Lake City Police Department.

 

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill formally filed charges against the man accused of kidnapping and killing University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck.

Ayoola Ajayi, 31, faces felony charges of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body. If convicted of aggravated murder, prosecutors could choose to pursue a death sentence.

Wednesday’s charging documents share previously unknown details about the investigation.

Lueck, 23, was reported missing on June 20. Three days earlier — in the early hours of June 17 — she flew into Salt Lake City from California, where she had traveled to attend her grandmother’s funeral. After her flight landed in Salt Lake City, she texted her mother to let her know that the plane had landed, ordered a Lyft ride to North Salt Lake’s Hatch Park at around 2:59 a.m. and was not heard from again.

Cell phone records showed police that Lueck’s phone was turned off June 17 at the same time Lyft records indicated she reached the park. Ajayi’s phone was traced to the park at the same time, and records showed that he returned home just eight minutes later.

On June 26, police searched Ajayi’s home in Rose Park and found freshly dug ground in the backyard. In the dirt they found a cell phone, burned cloth and pieces of burned human remains. DNA tests of the remains were a match for Lueck.

While they searched the home, a neighbor told police that they had seen Ajayi pouring gasoline on a fire in the backyard on June 17, and that a “horrible smell” had been coming from the fire.

Police also found a gas can in the trunk of Ajayi’s car. They later discovered that Ajayi had purchased “a similar gas can” at a grocery store at about 9:00 a.m. on June 17.

Police arrested Ajayi and announced preliminary charges on June 28.

Later, Ajayi’s phone was traced to Logan Canyon on June 25 — the day before police searched his home. Police found Lueck’s body after a “lengthy search” there on July 3. Her body was charred, with her hands tied behind her back and a large wound on her head. The Medical Examiner’s office determined that the cause of death was a blow to the head and declared Lueck’s death to be a homicide.

At a vigil on July 1, friends and faculty members described Lueck as “bubbly and witty,” willing to help others and looking forward to a future helping others. One friend, Kennedy, announced that she and others would try to establish a nonprofit in her name to help families and victims of kidnapping.

In a press conference Wednesday morning, Gill declined to answer questions about a potential motive for the alleged murder or about the communication between Ajayi and Lueck before her death, saying that investigation is still underway.

Gill also said he felt “it would be premature to talk about the death penalty.”

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, the last time the death penalty was used Utah was in the case of Ronnie Lee Gardner. Gardner was executed by firing squad in 2010. There are currently eight inmates on death row in Utah.

The 2017 murder of another U student — Chenwei Guo — could have resulted in the death penalty for Austin Boutain, the man who killed Guo. Boutain, however, agreed to plea guilty to the crime in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

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@EliseAbril

Elise Vandersteen Bailey
Elise is the Investigative Editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. In her almost four years at the paper, she has won nearly 20 awards from professional journalism organizations. She currently attends graduate school at the U, studying Public Policy and Population Health Sciences, and spends her free time wondering whether it's too nerdy to Tweet whatever "cool" graph she's found most recently.

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